COLD SPRING – Five candidates, including two incumbents, are running for three open seats on the ROCORI School Board this fall.

Cold Spring resident and ROCORI graduate Lynn Schurman began her first term on the board about 35 years ago when her children were students. Schurman, who owns and operates Cold Spring Bakery, says the COVID-19 pandemic makes a strong case for why ROCORI schools need to continue to prioritize technology.

“Before this happened, we really needed to start looking at how kids are educated,” Schurman said. “Kids are growing up with all kinds of electronics – computers, iPhones. They’re growing up with a whole different way of using electronics. Education needs to adapt to that, because that’s how they’re learning.”

Schurman says preparing students for future success through technology is one of her core concerns as a board member.

“As the world changes, we have to look at how we’re educating our kids so that we’re meeting the needs of the business community and society in general," Schurman said. “COVID is going to change everything as far as how people are educated. And, I think when we come out of this, there are going to be a lot of changes in society that we are going to have to respond to in education.”

Schurman says she’s stayed on the board because she likes to solve problems and work with others to find solutions, and believes her troubleshooting skills have moved the board forward in the past few decades.

“We’ve still got a lot to do as a district,” she said.

Cold Spring resident and ROCORI parent Sunny Hesse is currently in her fourth year on the board. Hesse says she originally ran for office with a goal of helping improve the dynamic between the school district and families.

“I first ran at a time where I felt like some district decisions being made weren’t necessarily in the best interests of all the children within the district,” Hesse explained. “I had been hearing from teachers and other parents that there was a lack of communication and transparency, which were things I felt we could definitely improve on and were important. I wanted to be involved in making those changes.”

Hesse, who has over 20 years of experience in human resources, is currently Chief Administration Officer for St. Cloud Metrobus. She wants to continue using her expertise to help the district form and maintain strong relationships with community partners like local businesses, organizations and private schools.

“I think we can continue to improve on our communication at all levels,” she said. “We’ve done a great job over the last four years, but communication is one of those areas you can always do better in.”

Hesse says she’s also focused on the district’s long-term plans and sustainability.

“We’re currently working on our strategic planning, and our long-term facilities planning,” Hesse explained. “These are things that position our district for the future. We also need to be fiscally responsible making decisions. And, in our current climate, a key focus area for me would be returning our kids safely to school.”

Cold Spring resident and first-time candidate Rebecca Leis is a stay at home parent and law school graduate. Leis, who attended Sauk Centre schools, has lived in the ROCORI district with her family for about two years.

“I have four kids that will go through ROCORI public schools, so I have a lot of personal reasons for being invested in the school system,” Leis explained. “Beyond that, I think my educational background gives me strengths to bring to the board. Every school board needs people who are committed and who are willing to serve, and have the time and capacity to do it.”

A few of Leis’ key concerns include making sure ROCORI schools are equipped with 1:1 technology and are setting students up for success “beyond the status quo.”

“If we’ve had our same statistical graduation rates, and our academic achievement has been stagnant for a while, then we need to be pushing to analyze it and figure out what we need to do to make it better,” she said. “So, I guess my objective is to always be pushing in order to see more students succeed.”

Leis says she believes public education as an institution needs to adapt to modern times, and she would like to help ROCORI schools with that mission.

"We should be evolving," she said. "Our calendars should be evolving to meet the needs of our society. Our demands and expectations should be changing, and the rigor that's required in our schools needs to be top notch in order to compete globally. It's a different world."

Rockville resident Charity Bennett is another new candidate for the ROCORI School Board. Bennett serves on several nonprofit boards, including the Board of Directors for twin cities-based UCare, and has over a decade of experience with political campaigning and organizing.

Bennett, who says she was encouraged to run for the board by colleagues and several of her 15-year-old daughter’s teachers, would like to improve communication between the district and families – particularly as it relates to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel like they had six months to figure something out and make a plan,” Bennett says. “And I understand the state had to OK it, but it shouldn’t take a board six months to figure something out. I’m not criticizing them, but it really did come down to the last minute. It was very stressful as a parent."

"I know they had to do what they had to do at the time. I just hope we can be better in the future," she added.

Bennett says she would also like to help the district examine policies related to bullying and take steps to create a more welcoming environment for students of color.

“(Racial discrimination) is a big problem at ROCORI,” she said. “And, unfortunately, this problem is only going to get bigger. There will only be more and more multiracial children. And, they’re our future. We want them to come back to our community. We really do. They’re going to be opening businesses and making our community stronger."

First-time candidate and Richmond resident Chuck Hentges is an assistant professor in the Environmental and Technological Studies department at St. Cloud State University. Hentges, who teaches technical education and construction management courses, says he would like to use his professional experience to help the district apply new technology at all grade levels.

“I think, especially at the junior and senior level, we’re going to see a lot more technology allowing them to work from home,” he said. “We’ve opened the doors on this, so I think giving teachers the professional development and the technology themselves is really important.”

Hentges says he also wants to see ROCORI continue to prepare its students for the workforce in addition to post-secondary education.

“We need to groom those soft skills, like problem-solving and communication,” he said. “Trying to incorporate those within the curriculum is really important, not only for college but as they go through the workforce.”

As the parent of four ROCORI students, Hentges says he’s been pleased with the education the district provides.

“They’re good, dedicated people, and we’ve seen that as our kids go through the schools,” he said. “It’s been a really great experience.”